Monday, July 06, 2009

Babylon V8

As reported here earlier, I've become enamored with Babylon translation support software, and the new version V8.0 is definitely a worthwhile improvement, if you think of it as a support tool for the translator.

For better or for worse, the company continues to include machine translation also, which is patently ridiculous and pointless.

Here is what I wrote to them:

quote (slightly edited from the original letter to the company).
I really don't understand why your company would be still keeping that stupid "translate" function in there. It is so mind-numbingly stupid, that it ceases to be funny after three tries.

Anyone who would understand what language even is, should understand that this is a categorical and structural impossibility to ever achieve. EVER. Language processing does not work in the way computer scientists seem to imagine - and I say this having read more computer science than the average Ph.D. The fundamental thinking error is to think that the mind and comprehension proceeds from the concrete to the abstract, when clearly the reverse is the case. This same issue is the underlying error behind all the nonsense about artificial intelligence. Just because a computer needs to synthesize the abstract from the concrete, and is therefore essentially structurally incompetent in higher level operations, so also it can never produce language, never mind how intricate the languages for programming it, because again of the unavoidable, fundamental flaw of having to deduce the abstract from the concrete, which is a process in which there is no conformal mapping, if the missing component of human experience is missing, which is the only conceivable guarantee that a translation is a translation and not gibberish.

Seen from this viewpoint, words don't make meaning, meaning makes words, or rather finds expression in words. Words evoke that meaning. Translation is to a) understand, and b) render into another language. This means the mind has to go up to the abstract level, and then descend again into the concreteness of another language, in proper idiom.
There is not even the remotest possiblity of a mathematical transform, or a logical transformative process on the phenomenological level of language that could ever produce a meaningful translation, except of something so trivial that you would not need a translation anyway. Like I said above, this whole notion is categorically absurd. And to persist in it, makes your company look stupid.

It sounded pretty smart when you talked about tools for translators. The translate function does not belong.

Copyright © 2009 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Progress with Translation...

Some time ago I wrote here about Babylon Software, which I'm starting to like a lot, particularly because it is a Swiss-army style tool for translators. Extremely flexible. And the other thing I like is that this company does understand that machine translation is a stupid idea, which only a total geek could think of, who thinks the mind was modeled on a computer chip in lieu of the other way around. Once you get that point, it's obvious how true it is that a computer is a stupid instrument that just under certain conditions can execute certain instructions more efficiently than we can, but only a total moron would mistake this for thinking. So expressions like machine translation and artificial intelligence are a permanent oxymoron, just like smart bombs, or military intelligence.

So, as a company, Babylon is now addressing themselves to making tools to address the needs of translators. For some reason they did retain their machine translation as an option, and I can recommend it anytime you need comic relief. It will give you the same sorts of assinine results as the translation function on Yahoo - another group of nerds who don't get it.

You can configure it anyway you wish, and I like to have both dictionaries, (meaning, synonyms, etc.) in the language of origin, as well as a translation dictionary, and this gives you the tools you need at your fingertips.

The free dictionaries that come with the system are worth what you paid for them, but the actual dictionaries are not too expensive. I am beginning to find this tool indispensable. But, more important than the good dictionaries that are available for the system, and the flexibility of configuring it so they come up to your liking, the ability to customize this system is indispensable. For example I have one or two authors I'm working on whose vocabulary is so unique, that I'm developing my own concordance to their work, as a backbone to a multi-year translation project, using the Babylon Glossary Builder. Considering all of this, this product is indeed remarkable, and if I use it long enough it will become indispensable, especially for these very specialized projects.

Copyright © 2009 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Translation Software Revisited - Babylon

Some time ago I had some funny experiences with a translation bureau, who would not hire me as a translator, because I did not use all kinds of translation software tools, which I despise. But then they did hire me to revise a translation of one of their "qualified translators" which was a complete disaster. In fact I laughed so hard while doing it, that I suggested to them that the translator in question probably was a Turkish national who had taken some correspondence courses in English and Dutch, and who now figured they were a translator. Evidently not so. According to the company, said "qualified translator" was very qualified indeed, the person was a language professor of Dutch extraction at an American college, who also would use all the software tools the company required its translators to use. It ended up that I did it faster without the tools, than the original translator did in with the tools, and I made a lot fewer errors, not to mention that the errors could have been costly, since the project was a specification for an electrical installation.
Thankfully for their customers, this particular company went out of business.

Most of the issues related to a problem we all see regularly day to day, when people who can't spell use a spelling checker, and they end up accepting homophone words in the wrong places, such as saying "then" for "than," etc.

At long last I've decided to test some of these tools anyway, in particular because I bumped into one company which seems to get it that they should focus on helping translators to do their job better, not replacing them. From a description their program sounded impressive, and they are offering me a chance to use their software as part of an ongoing evaluation. initiated a Translator Outreach Program emphasizing that no machine translation can be a substitute for the experienced human translator. It is Babylon’s aim to reposition its translation software among professional translators. Despite their slogan “translation @ a click”, aiming at Babylon’s general users and describing the ease of use of its software by simply clicking on a word to receive a translation, it is important for Babylon to recall the essence of its software: the fast and efficient look up in many dictionaries, which – as Babylon is convinced – also is of great benefit to professional translators. Babylon Ltd. Is inter alia provider of English Dutch translation and Dutch English translation solutions.

Translators that would like to join the Babylon Outreach Program for Translators can do so at: and will receive a free annual license of the Babylon software.

So, I'll start on this evaluation with all the skepticism I can muster, and then I will report back in this spot after I have some experience. Right now I'm at the end (ca. 7/8ths) of one 300,000 word project, and halfway through another 80,000 word project, during all of which I've probably consulted a dictionary 25 times, and asked a translation group on-line about 5 times for help with a difficult phrase. The rest has been subtleties requiring human interaction and careful weighing of very contextual stuff, as well as simply stupid mistakes in terms of employing English turns of phrase in Dutch, the kind of a mistake that software makes more likely, not less so.

One thing I've also learned the hard way from this project was that correcting a really bad translation, as I did on one book, is far worse than doing a fresh translation from scratch. This is why machine translations will cost you time, not save you time. However, if this tool can add convenience, great. Given the stats above it won't be about time savings, but the convenience could still be worth it.

Copyright © 2009 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.